Thursday, January 18, 2007

The iPhone is a Tablet PC

No one would have predicted it, but the two biggest IT innovations of the last 6 months have been new user interfaces - Nintendo's Wii, and Apple's iPhone.

It seems the old metaphors of mouse and keyboard are getting some competition.

I particularly like the iPhone's 'pinching' feature - you can use two fingers to squeeze a window down from both sides. It's a natural instinct, yet it would require using two mice simultaneously on a desktop PC!

Actually, the keyboard is safe, for now. It appears, albeit in software form, in the iPhone. It's the mouse that's under pressure, and not before time - there are serious mental gymnastics in moving an object across a horizontal surface, in order to direct another object some distance away at a different scale on a vertical surface.

Touch-screen interfaces are not new - the iPhone is really a small Tablet PC with phone functionality. Steve Jobs made this clear when he boasted that it gets rid of the mouse - most phones don't come with mice! The real innovation is in merging a Tablet PC with a phone.

So, three predictions - first, Microsoft will take the opportunity to remind everyone about the Tablet PC, and who invented it. Sometimes, Apple learns from Microsoft, not the other way round!

Second - sales of Tablet PCs will finally take off once people get used to the iPhone. They will want a larger version that opens their Word Documents and allows them to synchronize with corporate applications. I don't believe anyone has found laptop nipples or trackpads perfect, and the Tablet PC will provide a solution. Microsoft will benefit from this (unless Apple releases a high-end iTablet? ...)

Third - I'd be very surprised if we didn't see a Tablet variant of Windows Mobile coming soon. After all, Microsoft has had the software ready for a couple of years.

The end of the mouse is nigh, and user interfaces are evolving rapidly.

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